What Is Chain Sharding?

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As the beacon chain for Ethereum 2.0 is now active, it is crucial to understand the implications. One significant change to come is the introduction of chain sharding. It is a prominent upgrade to Ethereum’s ecosystem, capable of addressing some significant concerns. 

What Is Chain Sharding Exactly?

To understand the concept of chain sharding, one must start by explaining the purpose of sharding itself. Ethereum, just like many other blockchains, struggles to scale beyond what is currently possible. One core aspect of Ethereum 2.0 is sharding, a solution to distribute overall network activity across different blockchains. 

Having the ability to split this “database” of information horizontally creates a lot of opportunities. Spreading the load will ensure network congestion can not occur again in the future. Additionally, it will increase transaction throughput, allowing for better data flows. 

On the surface, this may seem like a solution to solve the scalability concerns. In reality, that is just one of the reasons why the Ethereum developers want to explore chain sharding. They see more benefits associated with this approach. 

Multiple Benefits For Ethereum Users

The introduction of chain sharding will trigger some significant changes as to how the Ethereum ecosystem works. Every individual user will receive a lot more “power”: both in terms of supporting the network and participating in other ways.

Running a Node Is Worthwhile

In the current version of the Ethereum ecosystem, anyone worldwide can support the network by running a node. However, all nodes need to store the same data, leading to increased storage requirements. When chain sharding goes live, validators and node operators need to store data for the shard they are validating. Sharding represents a crucial change in terms of overall hardware requirements. 

Increased Network Participation

Due to the reduced hardware requirements to support Ethereum’s network, inclusivity becomes a more significant factor. It will eventually be possible to run Ethereum on any personal device, including smartphones. As more people participate, the network becomes more decentralized, and the shards operate more smoothly. 

Additionally, this will also remove the need for intermediary services. Currently, users often pool resources together to create a validator or node. That situation will eventually change, although it will not be part of Ethereum 2.0 during the initial few months. Developers are still working on this concept, and it may take years until anything comes of it. 

The Evolution Of Chain Sharding

Keeping in mind how Ethereum 2.0 will roll out in different stages, the concept of chain shards will evolve accordingly. The developers will implement this significant technical change through multiple phases to ensure a smooth transition. 

Chain Shards Phase 1

During the first phase of the shard chains concept, they provide additional data to the network. There will be no transactions or smart contract interactions. Even so, they will still introduce necessary improvements for the Ethereum ecosystem. 

The developers are intent on using this phase to focus heavily on rollups. Initially, many people see rollups as a “layer-two” solution to bundle transactions into one data set off-chain. Once a cryptographic proof of the data set exists, the technology submits it to the Ethereum blockchain. A simple solution to reduce the data necessary for all these transactions and improve the network’s throughput. 

Chain Shards Phase 2

Before code execution takes place through shard chains,  a lot of time will pass. Currently, there is no official deadline to let these shards process and execute code. Although it offers advantages for managing smart contracts and handling accounts, there is no unified consensus on implementing this option. For now, it remains unclear if Phase 2 will see the light of day.

What Are the Concerns?

As is the case with any technical upgrade, there are some concerns to take into account.

First of all, there is the necessity to ensure processes on different shards run in parallel at all times. Achieving this requires a reliable code but also sufficient network participation. This aspect may not pose any real challenges for Ethereum 2.0, but it is something to monitor.

Secondly, there is a chance of chain shards introducing low-cost blockchain attack vectors. Every individual network shard has a specific percentage of the network’s resources to protect it. In theory, this allows for malicious actors to control one or multiple shards at a low cost. 

Last but not least, the overall infrastructure must be able to distribute the load properly. It is ill-advised to pass too many transactions through one particular shard. Such an outcome is improbable, but it is something the developers will monitor accordingly. 

Conclusion

Shard chains introduce a lot of benefits, both to users and developers. At the same time, some concerns linger. It will take time to roll out all of the functionality. Being aware of the potential risks is advised, as this represents a significant change for the network. 

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